The tractor wheels rolling across the fertile plains of Slovakia are getting bigger as the region joins a global trend towards larger, highly-efficient arable farms.
A case in point is the 7,000-hectare operation run by the Danish Dan-Farm organisation which specialises in investment and consultancy in farming in Eastern Europe. “We are not like a family farm,” says the managing director of Dan-Farm Slovakia, Josef Snegon. He describes how the company started up in Slovakia in 2005 with 1,000 hectares and grew from there.
A number of different farming units were added and the newest, biggest and best in machinery and equipment were acquired. This allowed just two to three people to work up to 1,000 hectares and the typical annual production rose to about about 30,000 tonnes of grain consisting of 20,000 tonnes of wheat and 10,000 tonnes of other crops such as rape seed, sunflower and corn. A central storage facility was set up and the loads flowed in from the fields. But as the silos filled up, one main challenge remained, namely, how to control the quality and segregate for the best possible price.
Segregation on the farm
The price is decided on arrival at customers such as flour millers in Hungary, Austria and Italy with buyers always looking for a particular quality, for example, wheat with a stable protein content of 12% for milling.
“If they get one truck at 12.5% protein, the next at 13% and then 14% and so on, they will need to spend time and money on adjusting production,” says Snegon. “We tried to split our stocks into loads for feed, milling etc, but we struggled to do it. We tried to test the grain with a classical way using a test for gluten, but one sample takes 20 minutes. We could manage when we had just 1,000 hectares, but not now.”